Dime Q&A: The Real Story Behind UConn’s 2011 NCAA Championship

By: 01.03.12  •  3 Comments

Did you talk to anyone about how this UConn title team compares to the other ones they’ve had?
“One thing that I don’t think Jim Calhoun gets enough credit for, and this is kind of my opinion but wrapped in talking to a lot of other people that know him, is that he’s won three championships now and he’s done it in so many different ways.

“1999, the team was based around Rip Hamilton, obviously a really good wing player, and that was the narrative of Calhoun’s first 10-12 years at UConn: the wing players that he produced. Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Caron Butler, guys like that. His second title in 2004 was centered around Emeka Okafor, a national player of the year guy, a center. He was one of the few true centers and the offensive revolved around the post game. Then in 2011, it revolved around this do-it-all point guard in Kemba Walker.

“What’s kinda fun and what hasn’t really been reported on is that Calhoun has won titles playing different styles. Every coach has their trademark. Roy Williams is the fast break. John Calipari is the dribble-drive offense. What Calhoun doesn’t get enough credit for is his ability to adapt to what he does and how the offense runs to the personnel that he has. Historically, this was the most unexpected title run.”

Talk about all of the recruiting stories in the book.
“One of the reasons why I thought it would be interesting to write the book was we have this perception that a team wins a national championship, we just assume if it’s a UConn or a Duke or a Carolina that everybody was a high school All-American, that everybody was the best player in their class and goes on to future NBA superstardom. With UConn, most of the guys on their team really weren’t the school’s top priority.

“Kemba only ended up at UConn because they thought they had Brandon Jennings signed, sealed and delivered and he ended up not even playing college basketball at all. Shabazz Napier, UConn basically whiffed on four or five really prominent recruits, including Brandon Knight, who’s now in the NBA, Josh Selby, who’s now in the NBA, so Napier only ended up there because of that.

Jeremy Lamb was a great story. He didn’t really play AAU ball until the summer before his senior year. We live in a world now where everybody knows the top sixth graders, and Jeremy Lamb was virtually an unknown player until right before his senior year of high school. So what I tried to do was mesh those stories into the bigger story of this team.

“This wasn’t a Duke team that had eight McDonald’s All-Americans or a Carolina team that had the No. 1 recruiting class. These were guys that really came together, rallied around that adversity of being underappreciated and under-recruited.

“I didn’t talk to Napier directly but I remember talking to one of his mentors from when he was younger and Shabazz said that when they played Kentucky in the Final Four last year, those guys on Kentucky were the guys that UConn wanted to give his scholarship to. Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight, those were the guys UConn wanted and Shabazz didn’t get a scholarship offer until late in the process.

“It all plays into the narrative of this unlikely championship, this unlikely cast of characters, group of guys that came together.”

What will people take away from the book?
“For a UConn fan, it was one of those seasons that you might remember most of the particulars now, in five or 10 years, you’re gonna want to remember all of the details of this team. Like any sport or team, there’s no guarantee it’ll ever happen again. The circumstances of this particular team, I can say pretty definitively we will never see again, to win five games in five days at the Big East Tournament and then to win the National Championship after that.

“This is the kind of a book you can open up once every few years and say ‘Oh I forgot about that thing that happened at the Big East Tournament.’ For a UConn fan, teams like that just don’t come along.

“Even if you’re not a fan of UConn, you can appreciate the idea of being the underdog, of having to win five games in five days at the Big East Tournament which had never been done before. These are all things that not only will UConn fans enjoy but I also think casual college basketball fans can too.”

…You can order the book through Amazon.com, through the publisher and on uconnbook.com

What will you remember most about their title run last year?

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